Siri has some competition.
Amazon announced today that Alexa, its voice-controlled digital assistant that’s usually found in its own devices like Echo speakers and its Fire TV streaming device, will be making the jump to the iPhone. Starting next week, US users will be able to speak with Alexa in Amazon’s main shopping app on iPhone.
Pretty much everything that Echo owners have become accustomed to asking Alexa will now be available in the same app that millions use to order toilet paper, books, and more Echoes on the go. You can ask it to buy you things (as if tapping on the pictures in that very same app was too difficult), tell it to play you music (in case you’ve forgotten how to open Spotify), and ask it questions about the weather and the weight of Jupiter.
All of these are functions that are great in a standalone device like the Echo, where the user is likely not close to the device and yelling from across the room to find information or set something up is far easier than opening up a computer and typing something into it.
But on an iPhone, where you’re using you finger to interact with the device, talking to Alexa might not be as obviously useful. It’ll also be just as awkward to ask Alexa to do things for you is it is to ask Siri—although at least Alexa will likely understand what you’re asking.
Where this can become useful is in Alexa’s interconnectedness. Many people use their Echoes to control internet-of-things devices like smart lights, locks, and thermostats. By chatting with Alexa on an iPhone, users can control their smart devices wherever they are. If they’re on the way home and want to turn the lights on, warm up the living room, and perhaps even turn on the oven, these are all sorts of things they can have Alexa do, instead of having to wait until they get home.
While other digitals assistants are already on the iPhone (Microsoft’s Cortana is there, for some reason), and myriad apps for controlling smart devices remotely, including Apple’s own Home app, few have garnered the general popularity that Amazon’s Alexa has. While the company hasn’t released any sales figures for the Echo, the device has been a sleeper hit for Amazon, and estimates suggest that over 8 million have been sold since the device was first offered to Amazon Prime members in late 2014.
Amazon has struggled to enter the mobile market—its self-branded phones were a dud—and bringing the system that many are using to control their smart homes and music to the iPhone may be a tunnel into the device that people check dozens of times a day. It may be a way of selling more products, and content, to a captive audience as they remotely set the timers on their washing machines as they commute to and from work.